In an unprecedented move, the Drug Enforcement Administration withdrew its plan to place an emergency ban on kratom.
Kratom can have some negative side effects, but the relative level of harm of any drug should never be used as justification for prohibition. The prohibition and criminalization of drugs has exacerbated the addiction crisis and played an important role in damaging the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
Banning kratom would ignore anecdotal evidence and research suggesting the herb may be useful for mitigating the effects of opiate withdrawal. If the DEA wants to truly improve public health and safety, it should recommend scientific research and base a regulatory model on the findings. If doctors found kratom to be an effective medication to help with opiate withdrawal or have other uses, we could regulate it. Users could obtain a pure, clean product with a doctor's prescription.
Prohibition ensures that those wishing to experiment with kratom's potential benefits are prevented from doing so without any safety measures in place. Doctors won't know how to monitor their patients or help them avoid deadly drug combinations, an overdose, or unsafe activities while intoxicated. The herb could come from anywhere and be tainted with any adulterant or other drug. The person selling it could be a dangerous criminal with a deadly weapon, further endangering the consumer. All people who use any prohibited drug are susceptible to the same fate. If we discover significant dangers after researching kratom, all the more reason to regulate and control the sale rather than relegating it to the illegal market.
The drug war is a war on people. If we are going to end the ever-growing opiate crisis and the harms associated with other drugs, we have to implement programs and regulations to control how those drugs are used, where, and by whom. Reducing addiction to heroin and other opiates, for instance, demands the implementation of heroin assisted treatment programs and supervised injection rooms. Marijuana should be available with a doctor's recommendation and for adults to use responsibly. Regulation of drugs like cocaine and meth will require novel solutions brought about by more research. In the meantime, incarcerating people for using a substance isn't keeping people from using that substance. We can't even keep drugs out of prison. How can we expect to keep drugs out of the hands of people not under constant, armed supervision?
The number of deaths in the U.S. caused by heroin has quintupled in the past 15 years. The DEA should be jumping at any opportunity to save lives. Their outdated, tough-on-crime reaction is disgraceful to Americans suffering from addiction, their families, and to the law enforcement profession.
Public trust in law enforcement is at historic lows. This didn't happen spontaneously. If people -- especially those in need of medical assistance for substance abuse -- are enemies of the state, law enforcement will continue to be an enemy of the people. If law enforcement really wants to repair police-community relations, ending the drug war and allowing research and regulation for drugs like kratom will go a long way.
I'm optimistic that we can continue to use our collective voice in strength, allowing science and compassion to prevail over destructive, failed policies. The DEA's decision is proof that we have the power to make a difference if we stand together.